Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Bear's Brownies & More - My New Baking Business!

I'm SO nervous about this sharing this but also beyond excited. I've started my own baking business! You might not have noticed but I've been a bit quiet over the last few weeks on my blog and especially over on Instagram and that's because I've been putting my all into this! Bear's Brownies & More is my new venture and the shop is officially open! This has been a dream of mine for SO long and after the hell of 2020, I realised there's no better time than now to just go for it! I mentioned in one of my recent posts that I felt I was moving away from blogging a little and whilst I'm not quite planning on stopping just yet, baking is what I've always wanted to turn into my job and hopefully this is the start of that!Bear's Brownies & More Logo

Lockdown gave me many months to bake and perfect loads of my recipes and as you'll have seen over the last year or so, brownies have become a firm favourite of mine. I spent many weekends baking over and over again until I was 100% happy with the result and then I had to work out how to actually launch a business. There's so much that goes into opening a shop like this that I had no idea about so it's been a major learning curve and it's taken a lot of time but now I'm finally ready to go! The first thing I had to think of was a name and if you've read my blog over the last year you'll know we have a puppy called Bear. Well he's probably not technically a puppy anymore but he's still my baby. As much as I'm sure he'd love to be involved, Bear won't be doing the baking himself but naming the business after him just felt like the right thing to do. He's the most special thing in my life so that's how Bear's Brownies came about.

At the moment I'm just planning on selling a variety of different brownies but I'm hoping to add some other bakes over the coming months. I've even started thinking about Christmas flavours too! I have an Etsy store where you can order so it's all really simple so if you are interested, please head on over and have a look where you'll find prices, sizes and all the extra details for each bake. For now though, here's what's currently in stock!

Bourbon Brick Brownies

Delicious fudgy chocolate brownies packed full of Bourbon biscuits with a biscuit topping for extra crunch! These are ideal for any biscuit lovers and they go beautifully with a cup of tea.
Bourbon Biscuit Brownies on flower plate

After Eight Brownies

Mint flavoured chocolate brownies filled and topped with After Eights. Perfect now Christmas is officially on the way!

After Eight Brownies held up over flatlayBiscoff Brownies

Like Biscoff? Then you need to try these! Chocolate brownies filled and topped with Biscoff biscuits with a Biscoff spread swirl throughout.Biscoff brownies in box

Salted Caramel Brownies

Fudgy chocolate brownies with a luxurious smooth salted caramel sauce swirled throughout. My absolute favourite to make and my fave to eat. Gorgeous with a scoop of ice cream!Salted Caramel brownies held up over flatlay
Each batch of brownies is made to order and each brownie will be individually wrapped for extra freshness so you will get at least 5 days out of each flavour (if you can resist them for that long).

I suppose that's all there is to say right now as the rest is over on the shop but I had to officially announce it on my blog. Thank you so much for all of your support on my recipes in the past, I would never have taken the leap and done this without that. It goes without saying but any support for my new business would be massively appreciated. It's not been easy but I'm sure it's going to be worth it. I have an Instagram page for my business aswell which I'd love it if you followed and of course any orders would be amazing! Why not treat yourself?

Instagram

Etsy

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Sunday, 18 October 2020

My 2020 Reading Challenge - Update #4

Books marked * were either sent via Netgalley to review or as a PR sample but all views are my own
Already it's time for a fourth reading update! It doesn't even feel that long ago I shared the last one but I have somehow managed to get 8 books ahead of my goal according to goodreads. These posts are already long enough anyway as I just LOVE talking about books but now I seem to be reading more than ever, there might be a few more of these roundup posts than I had originally planned. If you're new to my blog then let me explain. Each year I set myself a reading goal and this year I'm aiming for 100 books. Every few months I share the latest books I've read along with a mini review. It's a nice way for me to look back at the end of year on how much I read and pick my favourites and it's also hopefully a way for me to recommend some really great books to you! Let's get started.
3 books on gold mirrored dish next to orange glass pumpkin and DW Home candle

You Let Him In by JA Andrews* - ⭐

I always feel so harsh giving a book 1 star but this was just not for me at all. I actually quite liked the different perspectives throughout which can sometimes be a bit confusing if not done well but apart from that I just didn't enjoy it. I found the dialogue between characters so wooden and there was no excitement, nothing that made me feel as though I was reading a thriller.

Breathless by Jennifer Niven* - ⭐⭐

Whilst I hadn't read anything from Jennifer before I'd heard good things about her previous novel All The Bright Places so I was really excited to get started on this. It took me a little while to really get into it and I found Jennifer's writing style quite different to books I've read before. Whilst there were things I liked about it and I enjoyed the more romantic and emotional scenes between Claude and Jeremiah, I didn't ever get fully hooked in by the story.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney - ⭐⭐⭐

I read Normal People by Sally Rooney earlier this year and I'm still obsessed with it so whilst I wanted to love Conversations With Friends just as much, I was aware it had a lot to live upto. The thing with Sally Rooney's books is that you tend to either love them or hate them, or that's how it seems for a lot people. I definitely wouldn't say I hated this but I also couldn't say I loved it either. It was okay and I enjoyed some of the moments between Frances and Nick but other than that, I found it a bit of a slog to get through.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney held up in front of bookshelf

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank - ⭐⭐⭐

How do you even go about reviewing a book like this? It feels harsh to give it less than 5 stars but at times I found myself skipping and skimming parts so I don't feel I can give it more than three. I thought it was a really interesting read that really allows for you to find out how Anne was feeling and the reality of having to stay hidden for such a long amount of time. Fascinating but heart-wrenching at the same time.

The Mistress by Jill Childs* - ⭐⭐⭐

This held my attention right from the very first page! I had no idea where it was going to go and it surprised me several times throughout. I didn't particularly like any of the characters and I felt there was something off with most of them. Whilst it started off great though, the ending felt a little bit flat. It didn't really shock me and I think some chapters needed a bit more detail. A brilliant opener though and worth a read if you like domestic thrillers.

The Bench by Saskia Sarginson* - ⭐⭐⭐

Wow, this was emotional! In alternating chapters, we hear Sam and Cat's love story, one that spans over 30 years. They're pulled apart and brought back together over the years but with completely different lives, is it ever going to be the right time for them? The concept of this reminded me a lot of books like Five Years From Now and One Day In December so I knew I was going to like it. It did take me a little while to warm up to the characters at first but by the end I was in tears. A really lovely read.

In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The first five star in a while! I just absolutely adored this! I think it might be the first book I've read by Lindsey Kelk but it won't be the last. I found Ros really relatable and I loved the Bridget Jones vibes I got when she's with her group of friends. It was funny, romantic and uplifting. Just the sort of book I needed! Can't wait to re-read at some point.

The Minute I Saw You by Paige Toon - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I waited a long time for this to be released after Covid initially delayed it and it didn't disappoint! Somehow Paige just gets it right every single time. I could have never predicted where she was going to take the main characters, Hannah and Sonny, and it went down a much deeper route than her books usually do so it really did surprise me. Paige has tackled some really tough subjects and brilliantly so too. She's written it in such a way that she gets the importance of the subjects across and really allows you to understand how each person is feeling but it's still light with the perfect amount of romance. Not what I expected at all compared to her previous books but just as good!
The Minute I Saw You by Paige Toon on bookshelf with books in background

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I got into this way more than I expected to. I don't think there was anything particularly that really wowed me and I wasn't shocked by the culprit but I still really enjoyed it. It was such an easy read,
short chapters, likeable characters, just something really different to thrillers I've read before.

So Lucky by Dawn O'Porter - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

God I loved this! So raw and believable. I just wanted to hug each of the characters and I was rooting for all of them throughout. I've not read something so funny yet powerful and relatable in a long time. Brilliant.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I've seen this advertised as one of those 'books you must read!' and given it's historical fiction, something I really enjoy, I'm not sure how I managed to hold off for as long as I did. I did have high hopes for this and I don't think I loved it quite as much as I thought I would but there's no denying it's a fantastic book. It's obvious how much research Kristin has done by the amount of detail throughout and by the end the characters just felt so real to me. The ending had me in tears and I can't wait to see the film adaptation next year.

The Wife by Shalini Boland* - ⭐⭐⭐

I love how fast paced this was! From the very first page, it's full speed ahead and I was captivated immediately. I had no idea what was going to happen and throughout I was questioning every single character. I had a feeling a few characters weren't as they seemed and I didn't find anyone particularly likeable apart from Zoe's dad but I still couldn't have predicted the shocking ending. I think I read the whole book in about an hour because I just couldn't put it down.

A Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot* - ⭐⭐

I might have given this two stars but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I loved the relationships and friendships in this book and I think Mandy has written a book really thought provoking. It made me emotional quite a few times! I did find it quite slow in parts though and it just seemed to take ages for any romance to really get going.

Don't Tell Teacher by Suzy K.Quinn - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was such an interesting book! I'm always after thriller recommendations and this is one that kept coming up again and again and boy am I glad it did. The premise is so unique and led me to believe all sorts of things that could be happening at the school but it completely surprised me and went down a path I could never have guessed. So so good.

Not The Type by Camilla Thurlow - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

My first non-fiction book in a long time and maybe the only one this year so far? I was a big fan of Camilla when she was on Love Island a few years ago, just because she seemed so normal and down to earth and her relationship with Jamie was just lovely to watch blossom. I was really intrigued by this because she's had such a varied life! The book documents her experience working in landmine disposal, her charity work, feminism, anxiety and obviously her time on Love Island. A really interesting read. I'd have loved to listen to the audio version of this actually.
Not The Type by Camilla Thurlow held up in front of bookshelf

The Island by C.L. Taylor* - ⭐⭐

I'm a big fan of C.L. Taylor so I was really excited to receive a copy of her first young adult release. The Island has a great premise and pretty much gets going straight away. It doesn't take long for the characters to realise something is going on with the island and they might not be safe so it definitely gets tense very quickly. I was intrigued by all of the characters but because there were so many of them, it was hard to keep track of who was who and their relationships to one another. I also thought the ending was a bit anti-climatic.

Finding Grace by K.L. Slater - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

K.L. is fast becoming a firm favourite author of mine. She writes psychological thrillers and each one I've read so far has been exactly what you want in a book like that. Finding Grace was tense, unpredictable and full of really surprising twists that I didn't see coming. So far The Apartment is still the best I've read from the author but this is definitely up there as one of her better ones.

The Flip Side by James Bailey* - ⭐⭐

I thought this started off really well with Josh having just being dumped (after proposing on New Year's Eve) and I was really intrigued to see where this would take him next but about a quarter of the way through, I just lost interest. I didn't find it quite as funny as the reviews made it out to be but maybe I'm just missing something? A good premise and likeable characters but just not for me.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Vivien Brown* - 

Unfortunately I really didn't enjoy this. I didn't feel there was any tension throughout and by the end I just thought did anything even happen? Definitely didn't feel like a thriller.

All About Us by Tom Ellen* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was the perfect book to start giving me that festive feeling. It had some really poignant moments throughout yet was so funny at the same time and I loved so many of relationships throughout, not just the romantic ones. It had a time travel/sliding doors element to it aswell which isn't something I'd usually look for in a book but it worked so well in this.

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was so emotional. It's based on the true story of a phone box in the small town of Otsuchi in northern Japan, an area that was devastated by the tsunami, that people travel to so they can talk to loved ones they have lost. The phone isn't connected to anything but people believe their words are carried by the wind to their loved ones and it provides a great deal of comfort to so many. The book follows Yui, a woman who lost her daughter and mother in the tsunami who becomes a regular visitor to the phone box and there she meets Takeshi, a man who not long ago lost his wife. It's a beautiful story of love, loss and grief.

The Secret by K.L Slater - ⭐⭐⭐

K.L. Slater can't do much wrong in my eyes. I've enjoyed every book of hers I've read so far so The Secret was no exception to that. I do think there was one character at the end who didn't quite get the comeuppance she deserved but I liked the direction the book went in overall.

The Cows by Dawn O'Porter - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Like So Lucky by Dawn O'Porter, quite quickly I really found myself really enjoying the writing and feeling like it was a comfortable read that I could just take my time with. It had 3 different women with their own stories whose lives all cross paths towards the end, again just like So Lucky and I enjoyed that but there were definitely parts of this that made me a little uncomfortable. It's hard to explain but one character's actions didn't sit right with me near the end and that took away from the enjoyment of it a little. Can't deny Dawn writes great books though, I'd definitely read more from her in the future.
The Cows by Dawn O'Porter held up in front of bookshelf with books and small pumpkin in background
So that's all of the books I've got through over the last couple of months! I'd love to know if you've read any of the ones I've mentioned and your thoughts on them?

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Monday, 12 October 2020

White Chocolate Blondies Recipe

It's been a long time since I first posted a blondie recipe, the last one being a chocolate chip swirl version but today I'm sharing how to make simple white chocolate ones. These were super gooey yet somehow still had the cakey texture I personally love in a blondie so the best of both worlds! If you're a blondie fan over brownies, then this is the recipe you need to try.
White Chocolate Blondies from above, next to orange pumpkin and candle
Ingredients:
200g butter
125g granulated sugar
125g light brown sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
250g white chocolate chips or chunks
50g white chocolate to drizzle

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. Start by melting your butter in a saucepan then pour into a large mixing bowl
3. Pour both sugars into your bowl then whisk with the butter until you have a smooth mixture
4. Add in your eggs and vanilla extract and whisk again
5. Pour in your flour, cornflour and baking powder and mix again until everything is fully combined
6. Add in your white chocolate chunks/chips and give it one final thorough mix
7. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes
8. After the required time in the oven, leave the blondies to cool in the tin
9. Whilst the blondies are cooling, melt your remaining 50g of white chocolate then drizzle over the top
10. When the drizzle has slightly set, cut into 12 squares and enjoy!
White Chocolate Blondie help up over flatlay
White Chocolate Blondie view from side
You should get at least 4 days out of these blondies (if you have any willpower that is) and somehow they just seemed to get better as the days went on! These were a mix between gooey and cakey blondies so if you'd prefer them more on the cakey side, you can leave in the oven for a further 5 minutes or so. You could also eat these by themselves or serve warm with ice cream or even custard for an extra special dessert!

Do you prefer blondies over brownies?

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Friday, 9 October 2020

5 Things I'll Be Looking For When Choosing Our Next Home*

AD - This post is in collaboration with Flooring365

 I've mentioned briefly before on my blog that George and I are currently in the process of saving to buy our first house and despite the absolute hell of 2020, I'm still hopeful that this will be our last Christmas in our current home. In November we'll have been renting this flat for 6 years and whilst we've had some great times here, we've outgrown it and now I'm on a countdown until we can really get the ball rolling with buying out first house. Whilst lockdown meant that we could actually save more than we intended this year, as I'm sure we all know it's had a real effect on the economy and because of that getting on the property ladder is proving even harder than it was before. 10% deposits are hard to come by now which is really what most young people rely on so it's not exactly a greattttt time to be thinking of moving. It's not stopped me scrolling through Rightmove most days of the week though. By doing that though, it's meant we're really starting to work out what it is we want from our next home so I thought I'd share some of the things on my house viewing checklist.couple sitting watching Harry Potter, holding coffee

Location, Location, Location

One of the most important things with choosing our next home is location. Ideally we'd love to find a house in a lovely neighbourhood close-by to a park, hopefully not on a main road, not too far from a supermarket and as we're likely to be there for quite a few years, we also need to consider the schools in the area. I'm aware we're unlikely to find the perfect house in the perfect location so I'm sure they'll be things to compromise on but it's good to have an idea at least of what we're looking for. We've got a few different areas in mind that we like the look of but we definitely need to do some further research.

Good Flooring

I have quite a clear idea in my mind of how I'd like our next home to be set out and I may already have several boards on Pinterest dedicated to my dream living room/bedroom/bathroom/kitchen but it's good to be prepared! One thing I'll be looking for when viewing houses is the flooring situation. Whilst it may be we need to change the flooring over time anyway, if we could move in somewhere and not have to take on a massive job like that straight away, that would be fab! I'd love wooden flooring downstairs, I love the dark wood style at the moment that I keep seeing and I already have so many ideas for how to decorate the living room around it. With having a dog, wooden flooring is just something that would make life a bit easier.

A Decent Sized Garden

We only have a small shared garden where we currently live so anything more than that will be a bonus. A decent sized garden would be the dream though so we can create a cute seating area, maybe on some decking - a place we can chill in the Summer and enjoy barbecues! I also think Bear would love the extra space a garden would bring, in fact I know he would and as we hope to get him a brother or sister at some point, having easy access to a garden for toilet training would be a dream. It was a bit of a nightmare this time round with several flights of stairs to go!

A Big Kitchen

The kitchen will probably be the main thing I look for when we actually get inside any houses we're viewing. It's where I spend a lot of my time cooking and baking and I just need more space than we have now. I actually quite like our kitchen now and it's not that it's even that small but I'm someone who always ends up using all of the worktops and by the end it looks like a bomb has hit so if there was a bit more space so that's no longer the case, brilliant! We're also quite low on cupboard space in our current kitchen so that's something else I'd have my eye out for.

Storage Space

Following on from my last comment, we're just generally quite low on storage in our current home. As it's a flat, it was always going to be the case but over the years we've accumulated a LOT of stuff and whilst we regularly de-clutter it somehow just never feels like we gain any extra room from it. In an ideal world I'd have a big pantry in the kitchen, they'd be storage maybe under the stairs and lots of wardrobe space but I think all of those things together may be unlikely. Just a bit of extra space in each room would be heaven compared to what we have now.

So, that's 5 things that are currently on my house viewing checklist! I have no idea what sort of house we'll end up in and whilst of course I have quite clear ideas in my head, I'm really excited to just be somewhere new, putting our own stamp on the place and it actually being ours. We're SO ready for it now and it's the natural next step so I'm just hoping the world sorts itself out soon and we can get started.

Have you bought a house before? Do you have any tips when it comes to choosing a home?

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Monday, 5 October 2020

My White Chocolate & Smarties Cookie Slices Recipe

I'm back with another baking recipe and today I'm talking about cookie slices. It's been a little while since I shared my recipe for the Milkybar version so it felt like time to make another batch. This time I basically used my Mini Eggs Cookie Slices recipe but added white chocolate this time and I switched out the Easter chocolate for Smarties instead. They were just as delicious as I hoped they would be! If you make these you could switch out the Smarties for M&M's if you'd prefer. That's what I love about these cookie bars, you could change them up in a variety of ways!
Smartie cookie slices on wooden chopping board net to flower trinket dish with cookie slice on, orange scarf as background
Ingredients:
115g butter or margarine
55g granulated sugar
135g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
275g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cornflour
Sprinkle of salt
300g Smarties
100g white chocolate, broken into chunks

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees (170 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. In a saucepan, melt your butter then pour in your granulated sugar and light brown sugar
3. Using a whisk (electric or normal) whisk the mixture until smooth
4. Crack in your egg and add the vanilla extract and whisk again until you have a thick, smooth mixture
5. In a separate bowl, weigh out your flour, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour and salt. Give it a gentle stir then pour into your wet mixture
6. Mix everything together until it is all fully combined
7. Add in about 3/4 of your Smarties and 50g of your white chocolate chunks and mix again until everything seems evenly distributed
8. Tip the cookie dough into your prepared tin, getting it as even as possible on top then gently push in your remaining Smarties
9. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes 
10. After 30 minutes, leave to cool in the tin. Once cool, remove from the tin and set aside
11. Melt your remaining 50g of white chocolate then drizzle over the top of the cookie
12. Cut into 12 squares and enjoy!

These will last 3-4 days if stored in a tupperware or something similar, just to keep them as fresh as possible. As they're so nice warm though, I see no reason why you couldn't heat them up too, maybe even serve with a scoop of ice cream? I'd recommend popping in a warm oven for a few minutes or about 30 seconds in the microwave if you want to try it.
Closeup of cookie slices on wooden chopping board with flower trinket dish with cookie slice on in background
And that wraps up my recipe for white chocolate and Smarties cookie slices. Let me know if you give these a try!

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Monday, 28 September 2020

Our First Trip To Oxford - Seeing The Sights, The Best Meal At Mowgli & Staying In A Prison!

 2 weeks ago George and I had 2 nights in Oxford for our latest UK staycation (I think staycation technically means staying in your own city but I'm going with it) and to be honest I'm still quite sad that it's over! I had planned on sharing this post last week but with the UK going crazy again, my mental health was not at its best and I felt very much like I did in March when all of 'this' started. Who knows what's to come next but whatever happens, I'm glad we've been able to have a little bit of freedom recently and our trip to Oxford is one I'll look back on and smile.Radcliffe Camera, OxfordI didn't know a huge deal about Oxford and what it had to offer before going but I'm honestly already wanting to book another trip. As soon as we arrived, I was just in awe of how beautiful the city is. Before we properly got to exploring we checked in at our hotel which was the Malmaison Oxford, a former prison which now has 95 converted rooms. I'm weirdly fascinated by prisons, don't ask why cos I don't know but because of that, the Malmaison is a hotel I'd wanted to stay in for years. It was incredibly cool to walk through and know you're genuinely in a prison but in the rooms, you'd have no idea! I loved the industrial style design of the room and the view out of the window was just stunning. It's not a hotel I'd necessarily rush to stay in again just yet for a normal stay just because a lot of it is about the actual experience of staying in a prison and obviously we've done that now and explored it all but for a special occasion in the future, I'd definitely consider it.Malmaison Hotel, OxfordAfter checking in we headed to Cafe Loco which I'd seen recommended a few times whilst researching the places to visit in Oxford. It was really big and spacious so felt really safe and the cake there was honestly one of the best I've ever had. You also get the most stunning views.Cafe Loco, OxfordAfter a short walk we then found some of the main attractions, Radcliffe Camera, Bridge of Sighs, Bodleian Library and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. I can't get over Radcliffe Camera, it's just amazing to look at but the whole area is so picturesque. I've seen these places on TV in so many shows before but I never thought they'd be quite so beautiful up close. The weather was perfect too (I mean maybe a bit too hot) so the sun was shining the whole time we were there.collage - Bridge of Sighs, Radcliffe Camera, University church of st mary the virginThat evening we had booked a table at Mowgli and it was an absolute taste sensation. I honestly think it's one of the best restaurants we've ever been too. It was really reasonably priced, the decor is just gorgeous and the cocktails were lovely. We had a variety of small dishes to share but my favourite would have to be the Himalayan Cheese Toast. It was so good we ordered seconds and it will 100% be the first thing I order next time. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Tea Steeped Chickpeas which I'm going to have to try and re-create at home. Just the most heavenly meal.MowgliMowgliThe next morning started off with brunch at The Breakfast Club. Hash browns and fried bread are life, you can't tell me otherwise. We then headed to the Covered Market which was full of independent shops and cafes. A really unique place that I'd love to spend more time at next time. We also managed to fit in a second visit to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin but this time we actually went in and looked round. I didn't take any photos as it didn't feel appropriate but inside was really beautiful. You can climb to the top for apparently the best views of the city which I was so tempted by but it was sweltering and I genuinely feared I would pass out. Something to do next time though, hopefully when it's much cooler.

Later that afternoon we booked for the tour of the Oxford Castle and Prison. Not all of it has been converted into a hotel so there's still a lot that's been kept as it was and there are tours there each day. It was so interesting to find out more about the prison and our tour guide was really funny. We were only in a small group which made it much better and we got plenty of time to explore ourselves at the end. I could definitely see us going again one day as there's so much to take in.Oxford Castle and PrisonFor our final night we had a lovely meat at Ask Italian then headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the next morning. We had 2 nights in Oxford and we did get to see so much as everything is quite close-by to one another but I'd have loved an extra night. There's still so much on our list to see so I guess it just means we'll have to go back one day? As much as I absolutely loved it in Summer, it was so hot and I am not a Summer girl AT ALL. I think next time we'd plan to go later in Autumn or maybe even near Christmas when the markets are on? Either way it's a fantastic city and I really do miss it already.

Have you ever been to Oxford?

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Friday, 25 September 2020

My Milkybar Brownies Recipe

I'm sure we all knew it wouldn't be too long before another brownie recipe didn't we? I don't often reach for white chocolate over something like Cadbury but there's just something about Milkybar. I made Milkybar cookie slices not too long ago and they're something I can't wait to make again soon! I don't often see Milkybar in brownies, it seems more of a blondie chocolate but I had a clear idea in my mind of how I wanted them to be and I'm so happy with how they turned out! Here's how to make delicious Milkybar brownies.
Milkybar brownies with Milkybar packaging next to it
Ingredients:
100g butter
200g golden caster sugar
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g plain flour
200g of Milkybar, broken into chunks (I got 2 big bars)
212g of Milkybar buttons (large bag)

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. Break up one bar of Milkybar and cut into smaller chunks then set aside whilst you make the batter
3. Put your butter and sugar into a large saucepan and warm over a medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has started to dissolve
4. Take your saucepan off the heat and add in your broken up dark chocolate, mix until the chocolate has melted and combined
5. Add in your vanilla extract and mix again
6. Crack in your 2 eggs and whisk the batter with an electric whisk until you have a thick & glossy mixture
7. Next, sift in your plain flour and stir until everything is fully combined
8. Add in your broken up Milkybar chunks along with about 160g of Milkybar buttons and give it one final mix
9. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared tin and pop into the oven for 45 minutes
10. When the brownies are cooked, leave to cool in the tin
11. Once cool, remove from the tin before melting 50g of Milkybar buttons
12. Drizzle the melted Milkybar over the top then top with a chunk of Milkybar. Cut into 9 large squares or if you'd prefer, 12 smaller ones. As you can see I experimented a little with the topping but next time I think I'd just top each brownie with chunks of Milkybar instead!
Closeup of inside of Milkybar brownies
Closeup of Milkybar brownies from above
These brownies were super sweet so be prepared if you make them they're full on but god so worth it if you're a fan of white chocolate. The brownie itself is the perfect mix between cakey and gooey if I do say so myself and delicious either warm or cold. These will last 4-5 days if stored correctly (I recommend keeping them in a tupperware or the fridge).

What's your favourite kind of brownie?

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Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Is Food and Other Loves Coming To An End?

 After blogging for over 6 years now, I've recently found myself wondering how much longer I'm likely to be doing this for. I started Food and Other Loves when I'd just decided to leave uni, I'd been diagnosed with anxiety and my life was generally in a bit of a mess. I wasn't very happy and needed something to distract me. I never knew how much I'd grow to love blogging and I'm so thankful I opened blogger that one random day in 2014 and just started writing (no matter how awful those older posts are) but now I'm almost 26 (not coping well with that tbh) and my life is completely different. I'm just not sure if I feel the same love for it that I used to?Radcliffe Camera, OxfordI'm not even really sure why I'm sharing all of this and I'm sure it's likely a lot people won't be interested but it felt right to be a bit more open and talk about how I'm genuinely feeling. I'm sure all bloggers have had up and down moments and I know I won't be the only one that's felt like giving up with it entirely but something feels different this time. That's not to say I'm quitting blogging tomorrow and that's it forever but I am going to be treating my blog a little differently I think.

I've always shared what I personally want to share and I'd never post something just for the sake of it but it easy to get sucked into the feeling of 'everyone else is posting this, this and this so maybe I should too?'. It's easy to compare your content to others and worry yours isn't good enough or isn't offering something. Over the last year or so though I really have just posted for me and I'd like to think now that the people that read and comment and follow on social media still would no matter how my content may change. I've gone back to basics and shared lots of recipes, especially baking ones because that's one thing that brings me pure joy and I've also shared lots of book content because there isn't much that makes me happier than getting lost in a good book. I've shared quite a few posts about our puppy Bear since we brought him home because he really is my absolute world and I've spoken about my love for travel lots recently too, so many things that might not be for everyone but the things that I genuinely love writing about and isn't that why I started this blog in the first place? Whilst I am still very much a small blogger in comparison to many, I never went into this expecting people to actually read my posts and I never expected to form working relationships with brands but with that comes a lot of pressure. Pressure to be posting regularly, pressure to be sharing what you think people want to read, pressure to constantly up your game, pressure to have the most creative photography. And the pressure takes away the fun of blogging for me.

I just feel that I've reached a point with blogging now where it's gradually winding down and I'm okay with that. I'm still going to share books I'm passionate about, I'm still going to share my recipes for bakes I think people would like to try, I'm still going to share more personal lifestyle posts when it feels right but I'm not going to push myself to keep up anymore. That goes for Instagram too. I FEEL FREE. I know that's dramatic but I shared on Twitter last week how I'd removed lots of inactive followers so my following has dropped quite considerably but I honestly don't mind. I've stopped sharing photos because I think they'll do well (beauty flatlays, I hate you and will no longer force myself to take them when others can do them far better than me) and I've stopped worrying about writing captions that will get people's attention. If I want to share a picture from a recent trip why shouldn't I? If I want to share a cute picture of Bear why can't I? So many photos I've chosen not to share because personal ones never do as well in terms of engagement (for me) but I don't want to worry about that anymore. That's absolutely no disrespect to those that do think about the numbers and who do really work hard on their Instagram, I totally support you and will still be there liking and commenting but I'm taking my account in a different direction and that's okay. Social media was having a huge impact on my mental health and I already feel tons better for taking some control back.

I'm launching something new next month (all being well) that I'm really hoping will be the start of something amazing and for now that's my main focus. 2020 has been pretty horrific but I think it's taught me a lot. I'm no longer comfortable sitting back and not voicing my opinion on things when something isn't right (as you may have seen on Twitter recently, sorry not sorry). I'm no longer going to feel like I have to be doing what other people are just to fit in somewhere I don't even want to be! And I'm going to do what truly makes me happy. Life is too short not to! 

For now I'll still be blogging and to be honest there probably won't be much that changes! You might not even notice much of a difference on Instagram if you follow me over there but this just felt like something I needed to get out. Maybe it won't have come across right and it is pretty much one big ramble but I wanted to say it and I feel better for it.

Can anyone relate to what I'm talking about? Do you ever feel like this with blogging?

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Monday, 21 September 2020

So Lucky By Dawn O'Porter Book Review

I've reviewed quite a variety of books recently from thrillers that will grip you from the very start like The Perfect Couple to romances that will have you longing for the festive season like A Perfect Paris Christmas. So Lucky by Dawn O'Porter, one of my latest reads, is quite different from both of those and for a number of reasons I devoured it in a matter of hours!
So Lucky by Dawn O'Porter held up in front of bookshelf
'Beth shows that women really can have it all. Ruby lives life by her own rules. And then there's Lauren, living the dream. But. Beth hasn't had sex in a year. Ruby feels like she's failing. Lauren's happiness is fake news. And it takes just one shocking event to make the truth come tumbling out. Is anyone's life as perfect as it looks?'

My Review

I love how daring Dawn has been with So Lucky. This book tackles so many issues that women have to deal with every single day and because of that so much of the book is relatable. On the surface it looks like all of these women have their lives together but the reality is they're all struggling in one way or another and I'm sure we can all relate to feeling like we have to put on a front at times for other people, whether it be family members, friends or even those who follow us online.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Ruby, Beth and Lauren. Sometimes with books like this it can get a little confusing keeping track of who's who but I didn't have that problem with So Lucky. Almost instantly I was hooked and genuinely interested in each character. Ruby is struggling with her three year old daughter Bonnie whilst dealing with a physical condition that really affects her self-esteem. I found Ruby's chapters in particular to be really raw and honest and I just wanted to give her a hug! New mother Beth is also struggling but for different reasons. Her husband won't go near her now she's had a baby, though as we delve deeper, there's clearly lots of unresolved problems in their marriage which leaves her struggling to resist temptation. I felt for Beth so much throughout the book as her husband Michael was just awful! I was waiting for the moment that she realises she's worth so much more. And then there's Lauren, about to marry the love of her life with the whole world waiting in suspense. We mainly get Lauren's chapters in the form of Instagram posts, which highlighted just how toxic social media be. What looks like the happiest time of someone's life, could actually be the worst. I won't spoil what happens though as it's just pure drama and it's one you'd definitely want to read yourself!

This book is brutally honest and gritty and Dawn hasn't sugar-coated anything. It touches upon body image, mental health issues, feminism and more and each subject is handled perfectly in my opinion. Dawn has got it spot on with just how judgemental society has become with many women now feeling pressure in every area of their lives. Whilst each woman was dealing with different issues, it was great to see them finally come together towards the end in a moment of #girlpower and all of them move forward with their lives in a different light to the one they started in.

Whilst So Lucky was far deeper than I expected it to be, it's also extremely funny and incredibly powerful in a number of ways. I could have never predicted that I'd love it as much as I did. It proved that no one's life is as perfect as it looks at times and really made me think about social media and the impact it can have on ourselves and those around us. 

I can't wait to read more from Dawn O'Porter and I've heard great things about The Cows so I think that has to be next on my list!

Have you read anything by Dawn O'Porter?

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Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot Book Review*

I received a copy to review but all opinions are my own*
I'm sure I'm not the only one on a countdown to Christmas. 2020 has been a year we won't ever forget but I think I'm ready to say goodbye to it now. I'm currently in full on Autumn mode and before we know it the festive adverts will start, the Christmas markets will be here and I'll be having many a movie night wrapped in blankets watching Love Actually and Bridget Jones! Around this time of year there's nothing I love more than to get stuck into a festive romantic read and that's exactly what The Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot is. 
A Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot book cover
'United in grief. Pushed apart by tragedy. Keeley Andrews knows more than anyone that you only live once. So when she receives an invitiation to spend two weeks in Paris, all expenses paid, she jumps at the chance. Ethan Bouchard has had the worst eighteen months of his life. He's ready to give up on everything, including his hotel chain. So when he meets Keeley, it simply isn't the right time. As Keeley and Ethan continue to bump into each other on the romantic Parisian streets, they can't help but wonder whether this is fate telling them to let go of the past and leap into the future...'

My Review

I have to start with the fact that I absolutely loved the main character Keeley. How much can one person deal with at one time?! Having lost her sister the previous year and now facing health problems of her own, she's not got it easy but add to that, she has to try and come to terms with the fact her friend is dying too. I couldn't help but feel for her and I just hoped that as the story progressed, she'd get her happy ending. It's not often you find a character that has gone through so much. Ethan too having lost someone recently is suffering and it was clear they were exactly what the other person needed. Their romance may have been a slow burn, but it was definitely sweet and I really did get so invested in all of the characters as the book went on.

Whilst romance obviously plays a big part in this, I liked that so much of it was about the characters pushing through their tragedies and seeing life in a new light. I think we can all agree that 2020 has put things into perspective and made us realise just how much we can take for granted. Whilst it may be different circumstances to the characters in this book, it's definitely very easy to relate to the 'live life to the fullest' message now.

One thing I really enjoyed throughout this is the feeling of being back in Paris. Mandy has captured the essence of the city perfectly and I could picture everything so clearly. It took me back to George and I's honeymoon a few years ago and now I'm longing for another trip, definitely at Christmas time too!

A final thing to mention is that I loved the relationships between so many of the characters in this. Yes, it's primarily a romance but I adored the friendships and I also really enjoyed the first meeting between Keeley and Silvie early on in the book. It felt really raw and believable and I just enjoyed getting to know all of the characters rather than just a select few.

If you're looking for a book that's sure to get you in the festive spirit early, then A Perfect Paris Christmas is the one for you!

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Tuesday, 8 September 2020

5 Staycations On My UK Travel Bucket List

Now life seems to be getting back to some normality, I've been making plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond. Whilst I mentioned in my city break bucket list recently that I had high hopes to get a holiday abroad in later in the year, as time goes on and with the rules changing on quarantine pretty much every week, it just doesn't feel like the right time. I'm sure for most people having to unexpectedly quarantine for 2 weeks on arrival back at home isn't ideal anyway but with my anxiety, that's just not something I could deal with, especially when we have Bear to think about. The worry would personally take away the enjoyment of the holiday so we've decided on a few UK breaks instead. I think it's easy to forget sometimes just how much the UK has to offer so now I'm finding myself wanting to go everywhere! George and I have already had a night away in York which was lovely and felt very safe and we're now planning various other trips too so I thought I'd share some of the places in the UK I'd love to visit over the next few years.
collage - Oxford Radcliffe Camera, Steep Hill Lincoln, 199 Steps Whitby, Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh, Victoria Street Edinburgh, Bath Abbey Bath

Oxford

First on my UK bucket list is Oxford and it's actually the city we're off to next. It just looks absolutely stunning. We've booked the most beautiful hotel which I've wanted to stay in for years and we already have so much planned. One of the things I really want to do is visit the Oxford Prison Museum, I'm oddly fascinated by prisons, weird I know. I also really want to climb to the top of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin which is apparently the place to go for the best views of the city and I definitely want to tick off a few Harry Potter locations! I honestly can't wait for a few days of sightseeing, cocktails and some good food.
view of Radcliffe Camera & University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

Bath

Bath is one of those places I think would be gorgeous all year round but something about Christmas time there calls out to me. It's so picturesque and I just can't wait to be there one day, taking it all in. At the top of my list for Bath is The Roman Baths and a visit to the Thermae Bath Spa would be cool too as it's not anything like we've done before. I also like the look of Pulteney Bridge, the Royal Crescent and of course Bath Abbey.
The Roman Baths, Bath

Lincoln

It wasn't until a few days after George and I spoke and did some research on places we wanted to go that I realised we'd completely missed out Lincoln. I'm so glad it popped into my head as it's another city that looks gorgeous and it's a bit like York in that it's not too far away from us so we could just go for the night or even the day if we didn't feel like stopping. I'm really keen to spend some time at Lincoln Castle so we can do the Medieval Wall Walk and visit the Victorian Prison. I also definitely want to see Steep Hill and visit some cute shops and tea rooms! 
Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln

Whitby

Last year we had a weekend break in Whitby and it makes me smile every time I think about it. It was our first holiday with Bear and he just had the best time. We ate so much fish and chips and ice cream, spent loads of time at the beach and just had a lovely few days exploring. It was really special and I'm desperate to go again, hopefully next year. Whilst going abroad is always fun, there's just something nice about a caravan holiday isn't there? I love it! I always feel so happy when I'm at the seaside and I think Bear does too.
Whitby Abbey, Whitby

Edinburgh

Edinburgh has been on my bucket list for ages and this Christmas we're finally going! It's going to be a long car journey so I'll be taking ALL the snacks, will be stocked up with books and I'm deffo taking a cosy blanket with me. Like Bath, I'm sure it's beautiful no matter what time of year you go but it's always stood out to me as a place to go at Christmas. The photos I've seen of the Christmas market look insane, though I suppose it might be scaled down and scattered throughout the city this year instead but I'm sure it will be just as magical. I definitely want to visit Edinburgh castle aswell, Victoria Street and Dean Village, just to name a few places on our very long list.
Victoria Street, Edinburgh
So that wraps up my current UK travel bucket list. We already have a few breaks booked but I'm hoping to get more ticked off over the next few years! Please let me know if you have any recommendations for Oxford or Edinburgh to add to my list.

What's at the top of your UK bucket list?

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